A HANDYBUS service used by villages for three decades has been forced to start charging fares from May, following West Berkshire Council budget cuts.
Founded in 1986, the Downlands Volunteer Group (DVG), based at the Downland Practice GP surgery in Compton, operates a 13-seat Handybus service, mostly serving 20 outlying villages in the downland area, from Chieveley to Fawley.
Staffed by volunteers and aimed at providing the elderly, sick or disabled with transport to hospital, doctor, optician, dentist and shops, the service previously accepted bus passes.
However, Compton villager, David Morris, a DVG volunteer since the 1980s and former treasurer, said that from May 1 the group will be forced to make a charge of £3 per return trip to cover petrol costs, after West Berkshire Council had deemed bus passes were no longer viable on the trips in the face of financial cuts.
Mr Morris said: “West Berkshire Council, in their wisdom, have decided not to continue the use of bus passes.
“We are out in the sticks and tend to be forgotten.”
Mr Morris pointed out the difficulty for those living in outlying villages, especially the elderly who can’t drive.
Jean Beckett, aged 93, of Yattendon, a user of the Handybus for the last four years, said she relied on the service.
“I haven’t got any transport and it’s extremely useful because I’m 93 and can’t get out easily,” said Mrs Beckett
“It’s lovely being able to get to Newbury once a fortnight – the people on the bus are chatty and it gets you out.”
Ethel Ayliffe, aged 94, of Newbury, said she had used the Handybus for 20 years.
She said: “It’s definitely useful and I couldn’t do without it. I can’t get on the (public) bus now, I’m 94, but I can get on the Handybus.
“The driver picks me up at the door and drops me outside Sainsbury’s and then back home again and I don’t have to carry any shopping.”
The Downlands Volunteer Group is urgently on the lookout for more volunteer drivers.
For more information, including contact details, visit www.downlandvolgroup.org.